A lot of emotions swirl around every day as a parent, but when your children are bilingual and the parents are monolingual, there tends to be a wider range of emotions related to language on a daily basis.

From navigating disagreements between my kids and their friends to ordering food for all of us at a local restaurant to speaking with the teachers at drop-off and pick-ups, I’m always met with this clash of emotions due to my spotty comprehension of the local language.

If only you learned more!” I scold myself. Well, if it were that easy, it would be easy, but it’s not.

On a daily basis, I will feel all of these emotions within seconds or minutes of one another.

Feeling embarrassed, guilty, defiant, and proud all within a short span of time can have any parent who is balanced on the verge of losing it feel completely overwhelmed.




When you can’t understand what your child’s friend is saying, and you don’t know why one of them is crying but you still want to help.




When a child (maybe a stranger’s kid) corrects your pronunciation when you were proud of yourself for speaking the local language very clearly (in your mind, anyway).




When it takes you an extra five minutes to discern what your kid’s teacher is saying because you missed the context.

What was it you wanted me to do on Thursday? Something important is happening on Thursday, but I have no idea what it is.




When you watch your kids seamlessly switch between languages depending on who they are speaking with, and everyone feels included.




When your communication with your kids is slightly strained because your brains process information slightly differently between the two languages.




When saying “No” in a foreign language feels “softer” than in your native tongue, so you say it more often without feeling as much guilt.

It doesn’t feel like “No” when I say “Nej”.





When you can’t express yourself as well as you’d like in the local language but you keep finding excuses not to learn it.




Knowing that no matter how well you think you speak the local language, you’ve accepted the fact that you’ll always have an accent.





When you see the bonds between your children and your parents (their grandparents) hasn’t diminished with multiple languages, distance, or time because everyone makes an effort.


My other struggles with the local language:

What To Do When You Speak Like A Five-Year-Old


5 Reasons to Not Learn the Local Language


Share the love:


  • Margaret Howland

    Oh Lisa, and I haven’t even TRIED to learn Swedish, despite reading sev places that it is a great way to combat dementia diseases. Maybe we could chat on Skype every morning and you could teach me some words, then phrases. Could you fit that into your schedule?

  • This resonates so much with me! We’ve been in the Netherlands for two years, and honestly, my Dutch is not even at a five-year-old level, while my kids are increasingly fluent. Up till now they have been at a very international bilingual school, but my daughter is going to a Dutch middle school next year, and this is the thing that scares me the most about it.

    • So glad it resonated with you! Yes, I am terrified that my kids will ask me for help with their homework and I won’t know how to help them in the local language. Did you know that kids recall academic skills in the language in which they learned them? So if your kid learns math in Dutch, they’ll recall it in Dutch and need help in Dutch doing math. Not to stress you out, but that’s why I’m freaking out! Ahhh!

  • Judith

    Hi Lisa, similar here 😉 plus my children are trilingual (to make it even worse, hahaha).
    We were looking into modersmålsstöd, where they can also get help with different subjects in school. If they don’t understand it in Swedish, somebody helps them with the topics in their mother tongue. Now, according to your theory, this would not really help because they still think in the “wrong” language, right?!
    Uaaahhhh, I don’t know whether I should feel sorry for them or proud for all the obstacles we face them with.

    • Right. It’s a complicated issue and to make it even harder, your child might not even know what language they are thinking in because to them, it all feels “natural”. It’s crazy to think we need to approach tutoring different subjects in different languages but if your child learned that topic in Swedish, then they might struggle with help on that topic in a different language.

      And it may all be absolutely fine. Your kids might not struggle at all but if you notice that something isn’t clicking for them, try changing the language of instruction and see if that helps.

Comments are closed.